Golf Courses Coming to Iran

The Associated Press reports that a $2.2 billion golf resort is underway in Kish, Iran. The Flower of The East is backed by an Iranian businessman based in Germany, and German and Swiss investors.

In addition to 27 holes for the Kish resort, golf is making further inroads in the Islamic Republic. Two new courses are also under construction on Kish, a coral island just off Iran's Persian Gulf coast. These will be the first golf courses built in Iran in more than 30 years.

The game has never been a hot item in the nation formerly known as Persia. Even during the days of the democratic-leaning shah, there was only a single 18-hole course in Tehran: the Imperial Country Club. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, golf was demonized as a product of the West. Imperial Country Club went quickly downhill, with five holes taken over by the Revolutionary Guards.

The backers of The Flower of The East believe their project will attract golfers as well as buyers of upscale homes. Kish, with its white-sand beaches, is visited by 1.1 million tourists a year, so it is a popular vacation spot.

between Iran and the West. If the United Nations imposes sanctions, developers fear the course and surrounding resort could be delayed or dropped altogether.

Ingolf Burstedde, the German engineer overseeing the development, said the German government appears to be withholding normal insurance guarantees to German contractors and architects waiting to build the resort. "Yes, we're afraid," Burstedde said in his Kish office. "Sanctions would cause a delay, at least. Maybe we'd stop work for a while."

Despite the possibility of delays, work continued on the resort last week, with Iranian contractors carving out a huge parcel under the direction of a Dubai-based golf course designer. Furthest along is a nine-hole course and driving range aimed at first-time golfers.

"This is the end of Fairway 4," project manager Mahmoud Reza Abbasi told The Associated Press reporter while giving a tour in his four-wheel drive vehicle. "This is Island B. This is the start of Lake 12."

A French firm will handle the final details, since Iranians have no experience designing golf courses, Abbasi said.

A full 18-hole course proposed for nearby property will be aimed at foreign tourists and homebuyers, mainly wealthy Iranian expatriates who live in Los Angeles, Germany and across the Gulf in Dubai, Burstedde said. By 2009, Burstedde said the two finished courses will be surrounded by luxury villas and townhouses with multi-million-dollar price tags. A second phase, which developers hope to finish by 2012, would contain a luxury hotel, yachting marina and apartments on a man-made peninsula jutting into the harbor.

Burstedde said Iran's laws mean the resort will lack two things: integrated bathing and liquor. The Islamic Republic still segregates men and women in the island's swimming pools and beaches. And alcohol is banned in Iran. "Can you imagine going to the bar and you can't get a whiskey?" Burstedde asked.

In reality, though, men and women often do swim together, and most taxi drivers on the island can find smuggled alcohol. And Burstedde said his resort is preparing for when such laws will be overturned. As an example, he said the spa and swimming pools are being designed with easily removable barriers between men's and women's sides. "When the laws change we simply remove the walls and men and women can mingle," he remarked.